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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 February 2019

Hamas says Israel attempting prisoner swap before April election

The claim comes as Benjamin Netanyahu remaisn embroiled in corruption scandals

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh gestures as he delivers a speech in Gaza City. AFP
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh gestures as he delivers a speech in Gaza City. AFP

Israel has indirectly reached out to Gazan rulers Hamas in order to strike a prisoner swap deal before elections in April, according to the group.

The group has been approached by European and Egyptian officials to restart negotiations with Israel, Hamas sources told pan-Arab newspaper Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

"The Israeli government has manipulated the public time and time again, but this time it seems that their desire to complete a prisoner exchange before the upcoming elections is strong, especially in light of the strong opposition the current Israeli government is facing," Hamas officials said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called early elections as he remains embroiled as the subject of a series of cases for alleged corruption.

Hamas is believed to be holding two Israelis captive, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who crossed the Gazan border as well as the remains of two slain Israeli soldier, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, both killed in the 2014 Gaza War.

"Hamas military wing will not provide any information about the prisoners without quid pro quo. No negotiations will be held before Israel releases the prisoners released in the Shalit deal," the sources continued.

That demand referred to those prisoners Israel promised to release in 2011 in return for soldier Gilad Shalit. Many who were released have since been rearrested.

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The Palestinian group has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and has supported weekly rallies at the Gazan border with Israel where thousands have protested against Israel’s decade-long siege of the enclave.

Israeli restrictions on Gaza have left it almost unlivable, according to the United Nations, with the highest unemployment rate in the world. It restricts Gaza’s land access, its sea border and its airspace.

On Friday, Fourteen Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire in new clashes along the Gaza border on Friday, said the health ministry in the Hamas-run enclave, rocked by ongoing weekly protests.

The ministry said the 14 were shot, including two medics, but did not report that any were in life-threatening condition.

Thousands of demonstrators gathered in multiple locations along the border, though clashes were less intense than in previous weeks.

Palestinians have held demonstrations along the Israel-Gaza border since March 2018.

At least 243 Palestinians have since been killed by Israeli fire, the majority during protests and clashes. Others have died in airstrikes or shelling. Israeli snipers have wounded thousands of Palestinians, many in the lower extremities in a bid to maim them.

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period, one by a Palestinian sniper and another during a botched special forces operation inside Gaza.

Updated: January 19, 2019 06:29 PM

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